She is one of the most mysterious women in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. She was rumoured to be a girlfriend of the dictator of the isolated nation and reports of her execution had also done rounds. And she also leads a hugely popular North Korean girl band, touted as the country’s answer to Spice Girls.
Hyon Song-wol arrived in South Korea on Sunday ahead of the Winter Olympics to monitor preparations of a North Korean art troupe she is leading. According to The Telegraph, she was greeted by string of shutterbugs. She did not interact with any of the mediapersons.
However, she was also met with protests following her arrival in the rival nation. Conservative South Korean activists burnt a large photo of Kim Jong Un as she arrived in Seoul.
It has been rare for such a high-profile North Korean to travel to South Korea in recent years as bilateral ties deteriorated over North Korea's nuclear program before the nations abruptly began seeking to improve relations this month ahead of the February 9-25 Olympics.
After her visits to potential venues for North Korean performances in an eastern city, Hyon arrived back Monday at the Seoul railway station where she saw about 150 to 200 activists protesting her visit and recent inter-Korean rapprochement deals.
Hyon saw the activists but did not react. After she left the area, the demonstrators used a blowtorch to burn Kim's photo, a North Korean flag and a "unification flag" that athletes of the rival Koreas plan to carry together during the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Police used fire extinguishers to put out the fire, but the activists later stamped on Kim's photo and the flags and burned them.
Police plan to investigate the protesters, according to Yonhap news agency. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said they couldn't immediately confirm the report.
Hyon's visit made her the subject of intense South Korean media attention, with photographers following her every move and TV stations aggressively reporting about not only her career and band but also her fox-fur muffler, boots and facial expressions.
The band, with young women in short skirts and high heels dancing and singing odes to Kim, has drawn wide attention even though little information about it is available to outsiders. South Korean media say Hyon is an army colonel and is close to Kim.
South Korea's liberal government led by President Moon Jae-in sees North Korea's participation in the games, both in sporting events and cultural exchanges, as a way to calm tensions caused by the North's recent nuclear and missile tests and war of words with the United States.
"We need wisdom and efforts to keep alive the chances for dialogue we've pulled off miraculously after the Pyeongchang Olympics," Moon said.
"We must get South-North Korean talks developed into talks between North Korea and the United States ... So that we can resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully," Moon said in a meeting with aides, according to his office.
Under a deal brokered by the International Olympic Committee, the two Koreas will field their first unified Olympic team, in women's hockey, and have their athletes march together under the joint flag depicting their peninsula during the February 9 opening ceremony.
North Korea is to send a total of 22 athletes to the games after they were granted exceptional entries by the IOC.
The deals on a unified hockey team and the use of the joint flag have caused a heated debate in South Korea, reflecting changes in public views toward North Korea in recent years.
(With AP Inputs)